This past week’s announcement of Lord of the Rings Online: Mordor’s launch date and pre-order packages set ablaze discussions and arguments among the community, both in-game and without. World chat was streaming by quickly as players debated the pros and cons of the reveal, while the forums blew up with huge posts defending and criticizing the pre-order packages.
While this is not the travesty that some are making it out to be, I definitely agree with those that say Standing Stone Games misstepped with this announcement and needs to take some action to rectify the confusion and value of the upcoming expansion. While LOTRO players seem united in their anticipation for Mordor, some of that enthusiasm has been dashed with how the dating and packages have been handled, and that is a shame.
Let’s break it all down and see what we’ve learned and what pre-order might be best for you!
The launch date
Perhaps the strangest part of this pre-order reveal was the fact that the launch date was tucked right into the fine print: July 31st. Stranger still, in the very next sentence, the devs gave themselves leeway for a potential delay, saying that if July 31st doesn’t work out, the game will definitely, assuredly (probably) be out by August 31st.
Why not make the launch date its own announcement or more prominent? No idea. But the answer might be in the wishy-washy way that the fine print allows for a delay, telegraphing that the studio is not sure about when it will actually get the expansion out but wants to date it anyway. “Having your cake and delaying it too” is the expression that comes to mind.
July 31st, a mere two weeks away, seems awfully soon for an expansion that recently went into beta testing, and some players are calling for SSG to actually make that delay happen. Turbine, er, Standing Stone certainly has a history of under-testing and fixing after the fact, and that would not help the reputation of this momentous occasion. Others have asked for a delay because of needing that time to save up some money for the expansion.
No matter what, the studio’s assertion that Mordor will be out this summer gives it a release window that can’t be missed without major PR egg to the face. It’s certainly a good time to get a new game or expansion out without the rush of other titles that’s coming this fall, and it allows the team to work on the instance cluster and the follow-up update that is promised for later this year.
The price point
Moving on to the pre-order itself, we see that Mordor will come in three editions: standard ($40), collector’s ($80), and ultimate fan bundle ($130). For comparison, Rise of Isengard had a range of $30 to $50, Riders of Rohan’s editions went from $40 to $70, and Helm’s Deep offered a $40 base, a $60 premium edition, and no legendary package.
You can see the huge uptick in prices here for the special editions, which seem much higher than in the Turbine era. The $40 for the standard xpack feels right and is the edition I’ll be buying because these other two are way too high and don’t offer enough to really justify the purchase. Extras such as mounts, armor sets, kites (!), titles, and some advancement options aren’t “must haves” in my book, just niceties that might be better to buy a la carte down the road.
My problem here is that this all comes off as the studio really pushing it as far as it can to try to appeal more to the whales than the bulk of the playerbase. I said to some friends the other day that when it comes to pre-orders like these, studios should always err on the side of giving players a really good deal instead of coming off like they’re trying to shake every last dollar out of our pockets.
The more I look at this pre-order page, the more issues arise. The studio didn’t provide screenshots of several of the collector’s and ultimate fan bundle extras, so people are buying partially blind here. Lifetime subscribers won’t really benefit from the ultimate fan bundle’s month of VIP time (they can gift it away, but that’s it). We have no explanation for how this housing teleport functions any different than what’s already in the game. And I hate that marketing ploy that studios like this use to grey out the other options and have your default selection be the most pricey option. It’s kind of insulting.
To be fair, all editions do toss in a level boost that will take a new or existing character right to level 105 and Mordor’s gates. I’m sure that will appeal to some players as a method to catch up, although in a story-driven game like LOTRO, it still feels out of place to just leapfrog over the bulk of the narrative to get to the end of the tale.
Very few players seem satisfied with the pricing here, and it’s not just people being cheap. The collector’s edition is twice the cost of the standard without offering twice the value, and the ultimate fan bundle is over three times the price point of the standard while giving less than you’d find in other MMORPG expansion deluxe packages.
The High Elf controversy
Then we get to the fact that the High Elf as a race isn’t actually included in the standard bundle, which I feel is the biggest mistake in this whole deal. At Mordor’s launch, if you want to play a High Elf, you’re going to need to drop at least $80 to play this racial variation. I’m nearly at a loss for words because what MMO does this? Seriously! What MMO unbundles and decouples a major selling point for an expansion that it’s been promoting as part of the expansion’s offerings from the base edition?
World of Warcraft: Legion didn’t sell its Demon Hunter separately or as part of a more expensive package. FFXIV: Stormblood threw in two new classes a month ago, and Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind — which is no stranger to parceling and selling DLC — included the Warden as part of the expansion. But along comes LOTRO, and suddenly a slightly different hairstyle and racial skills on Elves makes this so special that it requires a separate (with LP down the road) or more expensive purchase? I call “bull” on that.
This is ridiculous, and I don’t give a fig about Elves at all. But you don’t pressure players to spend double the cost of a base expansion just to get a new race. I’m sure SSG is looking back at the Beorning and seeing a new race or class as being a premium extra, but the Beornings weren’t advertised as part of any expansion. And what’s worse here is that the future cost of the High Elves in the LOTRO store — 1,000 LP — indicates that the race is only worth $10 in the eyes of the studio. So why are we paying $80 for it now if we don’t care about extra character slots and mounts?
Making it right
I’m being hard on all of this not because I have a vendetta against LOTRO, but because I love the game and know that this move makes the MMO appear foolish and laughable to the larger gaming community. It hurts the reputation of the studio and game, and it could push potential players away instead of draw them in.
So what does SSG need to do here? It’s probably too late to adjust prices, since people have already purchased and refunds would be a pain in the butt. But there are a few moves that I think would help to alleviate the price point and the issues with these bundles to make them more attractive.
For starters, offer the High Elf in the standard edition, full stop. You don’t have to give an extra character slot or any of the other extras, but the race should be part of all of Mordor’s editions.
Second, offer a lot more in the collector’s edition. While I’m not that tempted by the ultimate fan bundle, it does seem to be a better value for the price than what you get for $80. Why not throw in Chance Thomas’ new soundtrack in both of the pricier editions? I was a little surprised not to see that included in the pre-orders.
Third, include some extra LOTRO points, at least in the top two tiers but maybe in all three. When Turbine was selling Helm’s Deep, players revolted against what they saw as meager offerings for the sticker cost, and the studio tossed in store currency to make all editions better. That should happen here.
Again, I’m excited to play Mordor no matter what, and at least $40 for the expansion isn’t out of this world for what we’re reportedly receiving. It’s just a shame that I’m not tempted in the least by the more expensive editions, as that’s a failure in marketing more than anything else. Hopefully the studio will learn from it.